by Marty Demarest

Warcraft III is the world-of-computer-games' blockbuster, generating approximately $225 million in orders before it even hit store shelves. Part of its success is because Warcraft III is a real-time strategy game - one of the most popular genres -- made by one of the most successful game design companies of all time, Blizzard. Simply put, a real-time strategy game allows players to choose a race of characters, each with unique combat and support units, and construct an army with which to attack the opponents as quickly as possible.

That's still pretty much the principle here, but Blizzard has done what it can to shake up the game and give an edge to players who hone their tactical abilities. The Undead, for example, are the easiest of Warcraft III's four distinct races with which to attack early, but they also require the highest degree of micromanagement. The Humans and Orcs, on the other hand, develop forces more slowly, but their troops are much more self-sufficient once engaged in battle. And things like the Night Elves' reliance on ranged combat will encourage old-school players to focus more on spreading their forces out, rather than lumping them into the traditional masses.

But the biggest innovation in Warcraft III is the addition of heroes. Each race can summon as many as three special heroes to lead their forces into battle. As enemies are conquered, heroes gain access to unique abilities that, when deployed correctly, can turn the tide of battle. Not only does this shift the entire focus of the game away from massed combat to more intense skirmishes, but it also engages the player in a deeper way than before: Now when a battle is lost, a familiar character is often destroyed.

The single-player campaign is great, with a much more cinematic and complex story than these games usually have. The game's real pleasure, however, comes when you log online to combat other players. You merely select the type of game you wish to play, and Blizzard automatically and anonymously connects you with a similarly skilled player. It's enough to make you believe that, for all their technical innovation, computer games can still become classic forms of entertainment. With a game like poker, any player has the chance to beat the game's inventor. Warcraft III may not be quite that balanced, but it comes close, and it's a whole lot more colorful.

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